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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have apparently melted away into the
ftream of focial life, the remnant have
clearly, and in the full eft manner, verified
the prediction, by refolutely refufiug to coa-
lefce, and by viewing with a fullen apathy
the alluring and fplendid examples by which
they are tonftantly furrounded. Yet thd
Prophet exprefsly predicted the peculiar
prefervation, which awaited the remnant
of a people, in contradidion not only to
general cuftom, but to the experience of a
great majority of their own nation.

One of the fundamental principles of

the Mofaic difpenfation, it might reafon-

pbly have been fuppoled, would powcrr

. ' , fully


fully incite the j:)eople, when placed in the?
peculiar circumftances, which were pre-
didied, and which have aclually attended
their difperfion, to renounce the law of
their Prophet, and depart altogether from
their faith in the God of their fathers.
The bleiTuigs which he had promifed were
temporal. Immediate rewards were to fol-
lov/ their obedience. The Chriftian under
the preflure of fevere and hopelefs afflic-
tions looks forward to a final recompence
in another world, and receives fupport and
comfort from the firm expectation of a fu-
ture ftate of happinefs. But the hopes of
the Jew wxre in a great degree confined
to his prefent exiilence. When worldly
profperity and comfort became apparently
unattainable, the flrong tie, which bound
him to the obfervance of his law, it fliould
feem, would be dilTolved. To a rational
fpeculator it coujd fcarcely have appeared
pofTible, that a people, placed under an^
economy, in which temporal welfare was
the promifed reward of obedience, would
ftedfaftly perfevere in their fidelity, when
9II temporal welfare was withdrawn, and
they were expofed to the longefh and moil
heavy calamities, which, in the adminillra-



tion of the moral government of the world,
the great Difpofer of all events has ever
inflided upon any nation.

From the preceding remarks, the pre-
didiion of Mofes appears to be contrary to
the regular courfe of fociety, to the par-
ticular difpofition of the Jewifli people,
and to the particular fpirit of the Jewifli
law. But in addition to the arguments
already adduced, there were to be peculiar
circumftances in their condition, by which
an impoftor muft have beeti convinced,
that they would be more efpecially tempted
to coalefce with the inhabitants of the
countries, over which they would be dif-
perfed. They were to be a fcattered peo-
ple. They were not to be united and
fixed in one place, as were their anceftors
in Egypt. In fuch a ftate, it would have
feemed not altogether improbable, that
they might preferve their national union,
from the influence of numbers, of con-
tinual intercourfe with each other, and of
hereditary cufloms and manners perpe-
tually prefent to their lenfes. But when
divided and fcattered, when poiTefTed of no
national cflablifhment, when daily con-


256 S E R M O N IV,

Verfant, in all the affairs of life, with the
principles and practices of other nations, it
might naturally be expeded, that they
would gradually depart from the ufages of
their anceftors, and infenfibly intermingle
■with the people, by whom they lliould be
furrounded. Again, it was natural to ima-
gine, that the miferies, to which this un-
happy people were devoted, would force
them to furrender through fear, or to re-
nounce with indignation, the difi;in6tions
and even the name of their tribes ; that
when fmking under the preffure of their
own calamities, and furveying the fuffer-
ings of their relatives and countrymen ;
when looking back upon the wretched con-
dition of thofe, who had gone before them,
and anticipating with paternal apprehen-
fion the wrongs and w^oes, to which their
children muft be born -, they would fly for
ilielter to an union with the native inha-
bitants, and feek an equal participation of
their laws, and an equal protedion from
their government : — and, laftly, that when
refledling, in addition to their fufferings,
upon the obloquy univerfaily annexed to
their name, they would throw^ it off in a
fpirit of manly refentmentj and bury in ob-=



livicn the records and the memory of their
nation. Marked out, on many occaiions,
for mockery and infult, hftening, not un-
frcquently, to the taunts of their paiiing
fellow creatures ; in fome inftances, the
theme of national tales, and the fubjed of
national merriment ; ilirely,' according to
the common feelings of nature, they would
haften with eagernefs to adopt the means,
which midit reftore them to the refped:
of mankind, to burft afunder all the bonds
of a feparate fociety, and to regain, by a
mixture with other nations, the rank which -
they could not enjoy during the continu-
ance of their own.

in addition to thefe predi6led peculiari-
ties of fortune, there are others not parti-
cularly foretold, to which they might be
fubjcd:, and which they have in reality ex-
perienced ; which, according to the ufual.
operation of human caufes, might rcafona-
bly be expe(5led to fruftrate fo extraordinary
a Prophecy, and occafion the intermixture
and final extindion of the Jews among the
. nations, over which they have been dif-
perfed. They have lived in ages, in which
fclence and refinement have been advanced


158 SERMON iV.

to an unprecedented degree of excellence.
Yet they have remained almoft entire
ftrangers to their influence. Surrounded by
fplendour, and overflowing with opulence,
they are, for the moft part, infenfible to
the elegant pleafures of cultivated fociety :
educated in phllofophic countries, they are
in general, notwithftanding fome illuftrious
exceptions, little captivated by the charms
of literature, or animated by the eiFufions
of genius. All that is fplendid, all that is
amiable in life, appears, in moft inftances,
. to rife and fall before them unnoticed and
unfelt. Even imitation, v/hich is natural
to man, feems almofl: to have loft its power;
and the progrefs of fociety, v/hich ever
keeps pace with opportunity, among them
alone has been ftrangely checked and pre-
vented. Again, they have been devoted
to their fecular interefts, and have been
engaged, even with the bafeft and moft
fervile fpirit, in the accumulation of wealth.
Now it was extremely natural, that, under
fuch circumftances, they fliould adopt, from
motives of policy, the manners, the go-
vernment, and the religion of the people,
among whom they hoped to proiper. By
thefe means they would concihate general



confidence ; they would fecure their pof-
feffions from violence ; and they would
enlarge the fphere of their commerce
under the aufpices of the government, to
w^hofe privileges and liberties they Ihould
be admitted.

Such a fituation indeed of an whole
people appears to be oppofite to the very
nature of civil fociety. No fimilar inftance
can be found in all the pages of hiftory,
amidft all the diverfities of climate and of
national charader, under all the changes
of government, and in all the ftages of
civilization, from the rude condition of fa-
vage life, to the moffc elevated ftate of ele-
gance and refinement. Had any venturous
theorift in the age of the Prophet been
endowed with all the political knowledge,
which, in the moft favourable times, has
ever been attained by the wifeft and the
moft experienced -, had he been acquainted
with. all the ages that were to come, and
penetrated with uncommon fagacity into
the nature of all future polities ; had he
revolved within his mind all the pra6lica-
ble combinations of mankind, all the capa-
bilities of focial life ; and then, had he



been called forth to pronounce upon the
poffibility of the conthiued exiftence of a
people in fuch an extraordinary condition,,
he muft have decided in the negative ; he
mufi: have declared it to be contradictory
to the ruling principles of civil fociety,
and inconfiftent with the general nature
of man.

In vain then will the Infidel endeavour
to difcover any principles of human wif-
dom, which could have encouraged an im-
poftor, in the age of Mofes, to predial the
prefent condition of his countrymen. I
have been induced to expatiate upon this
Prophecy, becaufe it is evidently of a na-
ture fo iingularly ftriking, as to be calcu-
lated, in an uncommon degree, to fubdue
the incredulity of the- Infidel, and confirm
the faith of the Chriftian. For when we
revolve in our minds, that it was delivered
in the early ages of the world, and has re-
ceived its completion in thefe latter days ;
that the greateft atchicvements of the
human race, the rife and fall of the mofl
illuflrious empires, and the moft momen-
tous revolutions in the flate of civil fociety,
have intervened between its delivery and



its final accomplifhment ; that the condi-
tion defcribed was contrary to the ex-
perience not only of all the times that had
pafled, but of all that have fince elapfed; and
was in direct oppofition to one of the moft
ftriking features in the charader of the
people, and even to a fundamental princi-
ple in the Jewifh difpenfation : that the con-
tinuance of fuch a condition feemed to be
precluded by circumftances, of which fome
were abfolutely foretold, and others might
probably occur ; and moreover, being appa-
rently incompatible with the general courfe
of human affairs, muft have been confidered
as morally impoffible : — when we bring
thefe ftrong confiderations to our minds,
and then refleft, that the condition was
as fully, clearly, and precifely foretold by
Mofes, as it could now be defcribed by
the hiflorian, w^e difcern herein fuch an
inftance of foreknowledge, as can only be
fuppofed to proceed from the infpiration of
that omnifcien^ Being, to whom the fu-
ture is as clear as the paft, and in whofe
fight a thoufand years are but as one day.
It bears in all its parts the moll: manifeft
figns of a divine origin, and is unquefiiion-
ably the Revelation of the high and mighty
M One,


One, who inhabiteth eternity. For, in the
bold and eloquent language of the great
leader of Ifrael, we may ** afk now of the
days that are paft, which were before us,
fince the day, that God created man upon
the earth ; and we may afk from the one
fide of heaven unto the other, whether
there hath been any fuch thing as this
great thing is, or hath been heard like it."

I fhall conclude the prefent LeAure with
fome obfervations refulting from the fubjecfl,
which has been now under difcuffion.

The miraculous nature of the fituation,
in which the Jews are placed, might per-
haps be intended by the great Difpofer of
all human events, as an additional and
moft powerful incentive to faith. In order
to aid the imperfedlions of his creatures, he
may gracioufly have ordained, that the peo-
ple, through whom his divine will has been
revealed, ihould be diftinguiflied, through
their whole hiftory, by remarkable deviations
from the ordinary courfe of their fellow
creatures. The ancient Prophets, in order to
imprefs the Ifraelites with an entire con-
vidion of their divine miifion, frequently


S E R M O N IV. 163

accompanied their folemn revelations with
an a6l of preternatural power. In con-
formity with the fame principle, it may
benevolently be defigned, that the modern
Chriftian fliould be roufed to a bolder con-
fidence in his Religion, by beholding, as it
were, a continued miracle ^ difplayed on
its behalf.'

The present aftonifliing condition of the
Jews is further calculated to ftrengthen and
illullrate the teflimonies, recorded in the

y One of the principal human caufes of the contuiuance
of the Jews in a diftinft flate will be found in the expedta-
tiop of their Meffiah;, which they ftill fondly cherifh. But-
llirely this expeftation cannot deftroy the fupernatural cha-
radler, which their difperfion exhibits. The caufe is not
equal to the etfedl. Can we conceive it poilible upon prin-
ciples merely human, that a people would continue to en-
dure through two thoufand years the heaviell and.moft ex-
traordinary calamities, which have ever been brought upon
any nation, merely from the expeftation of attaining at
length a ftate of temporal profperity ? But whatever may
have been the influence of this caufe in former times, it is
now confiderably diminiflied by their repeated difappoint-
ments in all the periods, at which they expefted the Mef-
fiah. So far, however, is it from v/eakening the force of the
predi6lions relating to the Jews, that it aftually ftrengthens
and confirms them. For it was clearly and forcibly foretold
by the Prophets, and is itfelf, therefore, a decifive proof of
their real infpiration.

M % facred

i64 S E R M O N IV.

facred annals, of a more immediate difplay
of figns and mighty wonders in their fa-
vour during ancient times. Though we
no longer view the water burfting from
the rock, or the land enveloped at noon
in the gloomy fhades of night ; yet we
cannot but implicitly aflent to the tefti-
mony of fuch fupernatural appearances,
when we fee the w^iole Jewiih nation
"now exiiling under circumftances inexpli-
cable by human caiifes, and oppofite to all
the eftablifhed principles of fociety. i

Again, it may be gracioufly intended for
our benefit, that, in the prefent dlftrefsful
Hate of the chofen people, we fhould be-
hold an example of divine juftice faithfully
coinciding with our natural conceptions
refpeding the attributes of the Deity. The
more forcible were their incentives to duty,
the more heinous has been their crime of
difobedience. The more fignal were the
favours once indulged to them, the more
fevere, it is natural to expect, would be
the punilhment, with which their aggra-
vated guilt fliould be vlfited. If the great
powers of nature w^ere miraculoufly di-
verted from their courfe, for the fake of



animating and confirming their faith, it is
not furprifing, that the laws of fecial life
fhould ceafe to operate, and the natural
feelings of benevolence be fufpended, in
order that an extraordinary vengeance
may be taken upon them, fdr the cruci-
fixion of the Lord of life, and for their
long and ftubborn rejedion of his Gofpel,
If once, while placed under the folemn
trial of fidelity to their God, they appeared
among mankind with his glory vifibly dif-
played before their armies, and aw^fully
prefent in their temple, it furely is con-
fident with the plan of divine juftice, that,
after a lengthened courfe of rebellion and
iniquity, they fhould be expofed to the
view of the human race, manifeflly im-
prefled with the mark of his difpleafure.
This fmgular condition, I have faid, may be
intended for our admonition. The fuffering
Jew is a fenfible and mofl folemn example
to the carelefs Chriflian and the hardened
Infidel. If upon the favoured people fuch
a fevere punifliment has been inflicted, the
world at large can have no reafbnable hope
of efcape. The guilt of their incredulity
was aggravated in proportion as their means
of knowledge were more abundant. And

M 3


i66 S E R M O N IV.

let him, who now perverfely turns away
from the volume of divine Revelation,
while he beholds their calamity, reflect
upon its caufe, and prudently endeavour
to know the things that belong unto his
peace, before they lliall be finally hidden
from his eyes.

But if erroneous explications are not
given of thofe parts of the Prophecies re-
fpedling the Jewifli people, which have
not yet been fulfilled, we mufl necelTarily
conclude, that Providence has yet another
grand defign in continuing them in fo fm-
gular a condition. The fame Almighty
Voice, which pronounced that they Ihould
not be confounded with the nations, among
which they would be fcattered, has alio de-
clared, if we may venture to affix a full and
precife meaning to the words of unaccom-
plifhed Prophecy, that, at a diflant period
of time, when their fulferings fliould have
ceafed, they fliall be triumphantly reflored
to the land of their fathers. If fuch an
alteration of their worldly fortunes has
been decreed in the counfels of the Al-
mighty, and is adually difclofed in the
Revelations of his Prophets, in the pecu-


liarity of their prefent condition we ^ dif-
cern the efFedual and, perhaps, the only-
human means, by which the accomplilh-
ment of the predidion may be brought to
pafs. They are not confounded and loft
among the inhabitants of the countries,
over which they have been difperfed.
They have not acquired any local domi-
nion, which they might be unwilling to
relinquifli. They poflefs not in general
any fixed property, the defire of retaining
which might attach them too clofely to
their prefent habitations. They have no
fettled country, to which they niight be
bound by the ftrong ties of natural affec-
tion. On the contrary, through every re-
gion of the habitable globe, they are wait-
ing as it were in expectation of the mighty
event. When the enfign of Jehovah fhall
be erected % and the Gentiles lliall prefs
forward to bear them on their flioulders to
Jerufalem ^, they will be ready to ftart
forth on the joyful occafion, to unite with
vigour and alacrity in the hallowed caufe ;

* See Clarke's Evidences of Natural and Revealed Reli-
gion. Seft. xiv.

' Ifaiah xi. 12. b Ifaiah xlix. 22.

M 4 and,


and, when re-admitted into their earthly
Canaan, and reftored to the favour of their
God, to bring to a final accompUfhment
one of the laft in the long train of won-
derful predidions, which were delivered by
their Prophets of old.




X O judge of the prophetic writings by
the habits and fentiments which now pre-
vail, is the moft dangerous error^ into which
the ftudent in facred hterature can fall.
The enemies of Cliriftianity, fenfible of
the advantages, w^hich refult from fuch an
uncandid trial of the ancient Prophets,
have artfully fpoken of them with a refer-
ence to the cuftoms, the learning, and the
fpirit of thefe later times. It may with
confidence be maintained, that their inde-

lyo S E R M O N V.

cent ridicule and authoritative affertions
will gradually lofe their efFecfl, in propor-
tion as our knowledge increafes of the age
and fituation of the Prophets. We muft
permit ourfelves to be carried back into
ancient times. We mufl: imagine our-
felves to be placed in the fituation of
Mofes, of Daniel, and of Ifaiah. We mull,
as it were, convey ourfelves amongft their
countrymen, adopt their manners, glow
with their fentiments, and even imbibe
their prejudices. That we may fully en-
joy the fplendid produdlions of genius,
with which Greece and Rome were en-
riched, we explore with laborious accuracy
the minuteft: traits of charad:er, which dif-
tinguifli thofe illuftrious nations. Let the
moft important circumftances relating to
the Hebrew tribes be examined with equal
induftry and zeal, and the champion of In-
fidelity will foon be compelled to relin-
quifli his prefumptuous hopes of triumph.
But we too often neglecl to contemplate
the real agency of a fupernatural power,
the fublime and interefting manifeftation of
angels and of God, with the attention and
the earneftnefs, which we beftow on fub-




jeds merely human ; the fallies of idle am«
bition, and the fictions of a bold imagina-

If we apply thefe general obfervations
to the particular fubjecft, which it is my
intention in this Lecture to difcufs, it
will be found, that the removal of objec-
tions is not the only benefit, which we are
capable of deriving from an intimate ac-
quaintance with facred antiquity. By an
enlarged knowledge of the real fituation of
the Prophets, we are frequently enabled to
difcover additional teftimonies in favour of
their divine million . Some of the pre-
di^lions recorded in the Old Teftament
are fo inconfifiient with the motives, which
uniformly actuate mankind, fo opposite
to thofe, which might naturally be ex-
pelled from the character of the perfons,
who delivered them, if we confider thofe
perfons as impoftors, and fo utterly irre-
concileable, upon mere human principles,
with the fituations in which the Prophets
were placed, that we cannot conceive them
to have been given to the world, except
in obedience to the declared will of its al-
mighty Ruler. The holy men of old



could not have adopted the prophetic Yha-
racier, in order to promote their worldly
intereils, and conciUate the favour of man-
kind ; becaufe their predictions, from the
"extraordinary nature of the fubjecl, were
often pecuHarly calculated to fruftrate
fchemes of human policy, and to excite
the difcontent and indignation of the

In the former Ledlures I have confi-
dered the events foretold as remote, cir-
cumftantially delineated, novel, numerous,
exactly coinciding with the predidions,
and in a very high degree improbable in,
the ages of the refpeClive Prophets. On
the prefent occafion, it is my intention
to fliew, that they were frequently un-
favourable, in the higheft degree, to all
thofe interefted designs, the profecution
of which muft unqueflionably be the firft
and greatefi: objed of Impostors. This
pofition I hope to illuftrate and eftablifh,
by a feries of examples, feleded from the
Volume of divine infpiration.

The great leader of Ifrael, when he had
delivered the laws to his countrymen, and


S E R M O N V. 173

finiihed the labours, which he was efpe-
cially appointed to accompUfh, predicted,
that, in a future age, their God would raife
up among their brethren a Prophet like
unto himlelf, who would be charged to
communicate his almighty will, and would
be entitled to their implicit belief and obe-
dience, on pain of his moft fevere difplea-
fure. The Prophecy, according to the
application even of an infpired Apofhle,
referred immediately to the Mefliah, at
w^hofe appearance the authority of Mofes
was fuperfeded, the obligation of his law
ceafed, and all the inhabitants of the globe
were admitted to an equal participation
of divine favour, with the chofen defcen-
dants of Abraham. Now let it be fup-
pofed, that Mofes was unconfcious of the
full extent of the predidion, and let us
attend only to the literal fenfe of his
words, which they muft ncceflarily have
borne at the moment of their delivery : we
fball furely be obliged to confefs, that
though admirably chofen, upon the fuppo-
fition of a divine infpiration, as an effec-
tual prefer vative againfi: the rejedion of
any future meflenger or new covenant, in
confequence of the prejudices of the peo-

174 S E R M O N V.

pie, yet, confidered folely in an human
point of view, they were moft unfavour-
able to the caufe, to which the Prophet
had been entirely devoted, and diredly op-
pofite to every known dictate of nature
and policy.

It has been the great objedl of all foun-
ders of llates and empires, to give ftabihty
to their inllitutions, by guarding them
a,gainft the raflmefs of future innovators.
For this end, they have generally advanced
their own authority, as far as it has been
poffible, above that of their ambitious de-
fcendants. When the Spartan lawgiver
had completely formed his republic, he
bound the citizens by an oath to maintain
its conftitution inviolate till his return.
He departed, and never more was feen.
The pretended Prophet of Arabia declared
hirafelf the final melTenger of the Al-
mighty ; and thus endeavoured effedually
to fecure his religion from the dangerous
pretenfions of fucceeding impoftors. So
powerful in general is this ambitious wifh
among legiflators, that it has prevailed over
the fafcinating allurements of dominion,
and fometimes even over the love of Hfe.



Lycurgus, as I have juft obferved, retired
to voluntary banilliment and folitude ; and,
in conformity with the fame principle, the
celebrated founder of the Northern king-
doms is reprefented in their fabulous hif-
tories as having plunged the fword into his
own breaft.

From this general principle, the predic-
tion of Mofes can alone perhaps be ex-
cepted. The great objedl of his exertions
had been attained. He had condud.ed the
Ifraelites to the borders of the promifed
land. From the mountains of Pi/gah he
had flicwn them the fruitful vales of Pa-

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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 8 of 16)